As the election approaches and the days get shorter, I have found myself thinking about an old, peculiar, vanished American institution, one whose effects are, in my opinion, still reverberating today. With all the talk about fraud, about disenfranchisement, about winning and maps and red white and blue Americas, I can't help but think about the (old) ABA, the American Basketball Association. Back when men were men and wore short shorts and huge hair, the ABA were the small market anarchists of basketball, from whence we got the 3-point shot, a lot of great players, and your world champion (at some point this decade, right? I'm not what one could call a sports nut.) San Antonio Spurs. Back when the ABA was around, the NBA studiously ignored it where it could and ridiculed it where it couldn't, calling its games too high-scoring, too free-wheeling, its players too flashy. The statistics for the ABA games were startling when I saw them; a hailstorm of undersize red white and blue balls at the basket, and may the team with the hottest hand win. To which I , at this remove, say heck yeah.
I've noticed that in this election cycle, there's one side trying to shoot out the lights, one side trying to set a record with teamwork, and everybody playing their hearts out for the full game. And then there's the other side. Far from working to run up their own totals, they seek instead to hold down the other side's scoring. Instead of running on their own merits, they try to implant falsehoods about their opponents. They are obsessed with defending the status quo, because they can't run and they can't score, and instead will be working the refs, trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of any victory their opponents might get.
The Obama campaign, though vastly better funded, reminds me of ABA basketball. It's an offensive clinic-- more volunteers, more donors, more field offices, more detailed policy descriptions. Everybody with their eyes on the goal and the scoreboard, playing their game for all that it's worth. McCain's campaign is playing defense to the point of denial-- they can't even accept that their opponent is who he is, so they run against a Bizarro-world simulacrum with the same name, who is everything the real Obama is not-- Muslim, Terrorist, Communist, Socialist ,Anti-Christ. I mean, I will, if Obama is elected, hold his feet to the fire about any number of things, but I will not pretend he's anything other than an intelligent, centrist, non-plutocratic Democrat who can give an amazing speech. Which, at this point in American history, feels like a triumph.
I play Scrabble every once in a while. I'm what's known as a good living-room player. I don't play any defense, really. I try to light it up as much as I can with the letters I'm given. Those people who clog up the board with c's and v's, take triple word scores with two letter words on the off chance that I may be able to do something with them-- I have no patience with them. Why do you play a word game, if you're scared of big words? I don't and won't win every time, but sometimes an awesome game does break out-- like three seven-letter words stacked one on top of the other, or that-- OK, time to stop Scrabble-geeking out. You get my drift.
Which brings me to the point I always reach with some on the Right. If you hate voters, why run in elections (this is a rhetorical question-- I think I know the answer, although I hope I'm wrong.)? If you believe government is the problem, how can you govern ? Why do you play word games if you're scared of words? What do you believe in? The only answer I keep getting, is power. The power to send young people to die, to reward your backers and punish your critics, to tell people that they are different and undeserving of rights. It's the right to pick winners, and decide who matters. But you have to respect the process. Believe what you want, but don't lie about what you believe, or about what it means. Me, I think everybody matters. I just want to see the scoreboard light up with the really big numbers. I want more people to have a say in who makes our decisions. I want flashy, run and gun, ABA-style politics, everybody on the floor playing hard. But maybe that's because right now, when you get down to it, there's only one candidate running who can shoot the J.